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At Large: The Strange Case of the World's Biggest Internet Invasion Paperback – June 3, 1998


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (June 3, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684835584
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684835587
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #478,512 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Perhaps the scariest story of insufficient computer security and cybercrime yet is the true tale of Phantom Dialer. He accessed university and military research centers, banks, even the computers that controlled central California's dams. His actions could have put tens of thousands of lives at risk. And what makes it so frightening is that he was not a criminal or computing genius. He was a curious, persistent, and mentally-challenged young man who never truly understood his own actions. So if he could do that, what might a determined terrorist do? Because, as Charles Mann and David Freedman show, advances in the Internet have been making it easier, not harder, for security crackers to go where they're not wanted. The book reads like a techno-thriller--from the discovery of a small cyberbreak-in to the massive manhunt that tracked him down and the troubled birth of the FBI's computer crime squad--complete with all the humor and poignancies of real human events. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Freedman, editor of Inc. Technology magazine, and Mann (Noah's Choice, LJ 2/15/95) have collaborated to produce a rather aimless account of a widespread series of related and mostly unpublicized computer-hacking incidents perpetrated by a cracker (computer hacker) known as "Phantomd." Basing their book on numerous personal interviews with network system administrators and "hundreds of megabytes of computer logs" (yawn), the authors presumably wish to convey some sort of "ominous warning about the Internet's fatal flaws." While network administrators worried about system security issues may find these accounts fascinating, average online mavens will find them dull and plodding. The epilog succumbs to preachiness on the topic of computer and network security. More riveting accounts of computer crime can be found in two books from Jonathan Littman, The Fugitive Game (LJ 1/96) and The Watchman (LJ 2/15/97).?Joe Accardi, Northeastern Illinois Univ. Lib., Chicago
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Alan Mead on July 16, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book chronicles the exploits of a young computer enthusiast who managed to break into an alarming number of computers, mainly by sheer perseverance. The book is also the story of the people who hunted this early cybercriminal and how he was ultimately caught.

One of the remarkable aspects of the story is that the chief antagonist (the "hacker") was not particularly skilled. He was what's called a "script kiddie" in the biz. Another remarkable aspect of the book is that after breaking into dozens of computers, and finally getting caught after dozens of people had invested hundreds of hours tracking him, he was basically let off the hook with very little punishment.

I found this to be a fascinating account of an extraordinary series of events. I recommend this book especially for those who are interested in the field of information security as it provides a glimpse of the motivations and methodology of one notorious cracker. For people who are interested in crimes or security, this will be a riveting story.

All that said, this is only one side of the story and I wondered how accurate the reporting was. In particular, I wished that there was more on the motivation and thinking of the main antagonist, the super-cracker-slash-script-kiddie pseudo-named Matt Singer. In the book, he is characterized basically as a bad guy. There has been more written about this story and apparently the script kiddie's real name is Tim Bach. You can find his posts in the freebsd.org mailing list archives from 1995 and other on-line traces. These "real-world" glimpses do not seem, IMHO, to jive completely with the character in this putatively non-fiction book.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Ben Rothke on October 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
In the spirit of Clifford Stoll's "The Cuckoo Egg," that detailed the hacking episodes of the German Chaos Computer Club in the late 80's, At Large is the true story of a computer hacker. The book, a fast-paced thriller, tells the real-life story of how a young man, with marginal intellectual capabilities, yet extremely tenacious and resolute, was able to penetrate hundreds of academic, financial, government, commercial and military computer networks.
The hacker who became known as "Phantom Dialer," started his two year hacking escapade by reeking havoc on the network at the Portland State University in Oregon in 1991. Once into the Portland State network, his used that site as a stepping stone to networks across the globe.
At around the same time that Phantom Dialer was causing damage, the FBI was starting its computer crime squad. While almost as persistent in catching Phantom Dialer as the Phantom Dialer was anonymous, the dedicated members of the computer crime squad felt that while their efforts were valiant, it was nonetheless just a drop in the water, compared to the thousands of other hackers out there.
After a wire tap where the squad was able to determine who Phantom Dialer was, and where his base location was, the squad decided to raid Phantom Dialer's house, arrest him, and seize his computer equipment.
Once inside the house with a warrant, a rather humorous incident occurred. The squad members went to Phantom Dialer's room and announced "Open up -- FBI!", Phantom Dialer replied "Shut up Steve (his brother), Do you think that I'm going to fall for that trick again?".
Phantom Dialer was arrested and jailed.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By AvidReader on April 12, 2011
Format: Paperback
This book was very entertaining, and also very difficult to put down, partly because of the odd nature of the hacker and the things he was able to accomplish despite obvious handicaps, and partly because of the writing style.

Accomplishments: Determination really can trump weak technical skills. How else can I describe a young man with apparent physical and mental problems who was able to pluck logins directly from Internet backbones?

Writing style: The writing is fairly ordinary and bland -- that is, the content is the story, not flowery writing. But there is something else here that I found very pleasant. The curiosity and frustration experienced by the technical people hunting the hacker made it into the writing in an exceptional way.

I have not done the book justice here. I would recommend visiting the library and reading the first 20 pages. After that, you'll want to own a copy.

I've read many (okay, most) of the well known books on hackers and hacker culture, and I would put @large in the top three, alongside The Watchman, by Jonathan Littman, and Kingpin, by Kevin Poulsen.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By David Cohen on May 16, 1998
Format: Paperback
At Large is essentially the tale of a cracker who was bright enough to electronically steal the source code of Solaris - described in the book as "over 100 Mb of corporate lifeblood" - but then, after the theft, wasn't smart enough to realise that his own hard drive wasn't large enough to store the pilfered material. This book is subtitled 'The Strange Case of the World's Biggest Internet Inavsion', but there are more appropriate adjectives than strange. Crazy, astonishing, mind-boggling and unbelieveable would be more apt. This is a compelling account of cracked computers and confounded cops - with the cracker and confounder being not an evil consortium of hacking dudez, but ONE mentally retarded loner cooped up in his bedroom. Basically, one Matthew Singer of Portland, Oregon roamed the Internet almost at will during 1991 and 1992, taking over whole networks and inspecting their contents. No-one was immune from his wandering - he invaded commercial, government and educational networks. Through dogged persistence and nifty cracking techniques Singer (who went by the handles of Phantomd and Infomaster) did whatever he wanted, from reading other people's email to penetrating supercomputers. The most amazing thing is that Phantomd did almost no damage. His opportunities to cause havoc were vast. He seemed more interested in cracking for the sake of it, instead of trashing files. This was just as well - one of the networks he conquered, for example, controlled a huge dam in California. The message of At Large is clear: if Internet security is so bad, what's to stop real damage being done by a malicious cracker? There are numerous sobering quotes throughout the book, like 'Internet security isn't lousy. There just isn't any,' and 'The typical computer network...Read more ›
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